This, the debut LP from San Francisco’s Sam Flax, was initially released in that most hipster of ways: limited-edition cassette. Unsurprisingly, all two hundred and fifty copies sold out, but fans of listening to music using more up-to-date devices should be delighted by the fact that it’s now being made available to play on your record player or your computer. Hurrah!
It’s inevitable comparisons will be made to more well-known pop experimentalists Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.This kind of aesthetic isn’t entirely unexplored territory either, lots of artists are trying to employ the same tricks and nuances with varying degrees of success and it isn’t as if the world needs yet another individual making woozy and floaty soundscapes. But whilst not adding anything new, Flax comes fairly close to getting away with using a well-worn formula by focusing on the songs rather than being weird for weird’s sake.
Fire Doesn’t Burn Itself is a great psych-rock song that gives the album a commanding start. Its delayed guitars ring out notes that bend all over the place to give the song a spacey feel and the sunshine vocal harmonies are infectious. It’s a shame that it doesn’t stop around the four-minute mark as the free-styling afterwards doesn’t add much, but it’s a definite highpoint nonetheless. Child Of Glass, whilst clearly another addition to the list of post-Drive neon-lit nighttime jams that is already longer than the running time of the actual film, is undeniably funky and the starry-eyed Almost Young cruises along nicely, shimmering brightly as it does. Elsewhere, Everybody Wants and Further West chug along at a steady pace whilst Backwards Fire comes across as a rather trippy campfire song – provided that you camp in vast American deserts as opposed to a damp hill in Somerset.
So far, so good. However, for all of the highlights, there’s one major flaw with Age Waves and that is its instrumental passages. At worst, they’re pointless filler. At best, they’re extremely dull. Almost Young and Dark Water pass harmlessly over your head, whilst album closer Homesick For Osaka feels like a huge anti-climax given what’s gone before. It’s almost as if they’re there purely for the sake of showing that there’s more to Flax than hazy pop, but due to their quality they act as a frustrating buzzkill.
It’s a massive shame as Age Waves starts off well and tries hard to keep the momentum going before crashing when the ambient interludes strike. Otherwise, the overall sound is very appealing and he’s definitely capable of writing killer songs, but Flax also needs a healthy dose of invention if he’s to become a name to remember.